Tiger Bay (1959)

UK / 102 minutes / bw / Independent Artists, Rank Dir: J. Lee Thompson Pr: John Hawkesworth, Julian Wintle, Leslie Parkyn Scr: John Hawkesworth, Shelley Smith Story: “Rodolphe et le Revolver” (n.d.) by Noël Calef Cine: Eric Cross Cast: John Mills, Horst Buchholz, Hayley Mills, Yvonne Mitchell, Megs Jenkins, Anthony Dawson, Meredith Edwards, Shari, Christopher Rhodes, Kenneth Griffith, George Pastell, George Selway, Marianne Stone, Marne Maitland, Brian Hammond.

After a long stretch at sea, Polish merchant seaman Bronislav “Broni” Korchinsky (Buchholz)—who himself spells his name “Koverzynski”—arrives back in Cardiff docks with £95 back pay in his pocket, intent on proposing to his lover, Anya Haluba (Mitchell). He finds that she’s gone from the flat for which he sent her the rent; it’s now occupied by an evident good-time girl called Christine (Shari). Getting Anya’s new address from seedy landlord Dr. Das (Maitland), Broni goes to have it out with her, en route picking up tomboyish petty pilferer and compulsive liar Gillian “Gillie” Evans (Hayley Mills), who lives in the same block as Anya. There, he finds that Anya has taken up with another man—as we in due course find out, he’s married sports broadcaster Barclay (Dawson). When Anya pulls a gun on Broni they struggle and he takes the weapon from her; moments later, as she shrieks imprecations at him, he shoots her dead in a jealous rage. Watching all this through the flat’s letterbox has been Gillie.

Tiger Bay 1959 - 2 Anya (Yvonne Mitchell) fights fire with fire

Anya (Yvonne Mitchell) fights fire with fire.

Tiger Bay 1959 - 3 Chorister Gillie (Hayley Mills), picture of innocence

Gillie (Hayley Mills) the chorister: butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, would it?

Gillie manages to steal the gun and its remaining bullet. During a wedding at the church in whose choir she sings, she swaps the bullet with a fellow child-chorister, Dai Parry (Hammond). Broni, who knows that she has witnessed at least part of the crime, has followed her to the church; when everyone else has cleared off after the service he pursues her into the loft,  where there’s a tense standoff by the end of which they’ve become fast friends. In scenes that are strongly reminiscent of those between Dirk Bogarde and Jon Whiteley in HUNTED (1952)—another Wintle-produced movie about bonding between a crime-of-passion killer and the child he’s forced by circumstances to take along with him—the pair enjoy a short-lived idyll in the hills above Cardiff.

Tiger Bay 1959 - 4 Gillie (Hayley Mills) hides in the church attic

Gillie (Hayley Mills) hides in the church loft.

Tiger Bay 1959 - 5 'Come any nearer and I'll shoot. I mean it.'

“Come any nearer and I’ll shoot. I mean it!”

When Broni leaves Gillie there to go in search of another shipboard job—even though “All my life I’ve been at sea. All my life I’ve been trying to get away from the sea”—she’s soon caught. Superintendent Graham (John Mills, Hayley’s real-life father), by now hard on Broni’s trail, is certain that she can help him nail his man, but Gillie weaves a tapestry of lies and half-truths, even at one point attempting to stitch up Barclay, all in hopes of delaying Graham’s hunt long enough that Broni might get outside the UK’s three-mile limit—i.e., into international waters—where Graham would have no jurisdiction.

Tiger Bay 1959 - 6 Supt Graham (John Mills) interrogates seedy broadcaster Barclay (Anthony Dawson)

Superintendent Graham (John Mills) interrogates seedy broadcaster Barclay (Anthony Dawson).

The final dramatic scenes aboard the Caracas-bound ship Poloma, whose captain (Pastell) is disinclined to help Graham arrest his new crewman, are appropriately tense, albeit a tad predictable, with Gillie trying to stow away so as to be with her pal Broni, but the most suspenseful sequences come earlier, first in the church attic, where it seems nothing can save Gillie from the murderer, and then when, soon after, the pair are aboard a ferry out of Cardiff and the opportunity presents itself to Broni to get rid of the sole witness permanently. In both instances Gillie is in fact safe, because, as we should have deduced earlier, Broni is fundamentally a very decent man—a fact that even Graham has to admit in the closing moments of the movie, when Broni has saved Gillie’s life at the expense of his own freedom: says Broni “Well, you’ve got your man,” to which Graham responds, “Yes, I have, and a very brave man.”

The two principals, Buchholz and Hayley Mills, have a fine chemistry together, perhaps better even than that between Bogarde and Whiteley in the earlier movie. Hayley Mills manages to depict a very sympathetic heroine, despite all the dishonesty, in a good performance, although some of her reactions seem more stereotyped than they should be. Mills père is appropriately stalwart as the driven copper; this is the kind of role he could have done in his sleep. There are plenty of good cameos among the supporting players, such as Kenneth Griffith as Mr. Seymour, the church choirmaster who’s clearly had it up to here with Gillie and her deviousness, and George Pastell as the skipper of the Poloma. The redoubtable Yvonne Mitchell—perhaps best known for her role in YIELD TO THE NIGHT (1956) as the guard who befriends Diana Dors while the latter awaits her hanging—has only a small part here, alas, but she makes the most of it. Thompson’s direction is impeccable, and full of noirish touches.

Tiger Bay 1959 - 8 Best buds - Broni (Horst Buchholz) and Gillie (Hayley Mills)

Best buds – Broni (Horst Buchholz) and Gillie (Hayley Mills).

Noël Calef was a Bulgarian-born French writer whose novels and stories gave rise to a number of movies of noirish interest, such as Joseph Losey’s IMBARCO A MEZZANOTTE (1952; vt Stranger on the Prowl; vt Encounter), Louis Malle’s ASCENSEUR POUR L’ÉCHAFAUD (1957; vt Lift to the Scaffold; vt Elevator to the Gallows; vt Frantic) and Gilles Grangier’s Échec au Porteur (1958; vt Not Delivered).

The Tiger Bay district of Cardiff is depicted as a happy multicultural melting pot; oddly enough, the only resentment shown towards an “outsider” is by a couple of the Welsh kids towards Gillie because she’s English—an apparent orphan come to live with her Welsh auntie, Mrs. Phillips (Jenkins).

Tiger Bay represented the screen debut of the 12-year-old Hayley Mills (aside from an uncredited role as a baby in So Well Remembered [1947]) and the first English-speaking role for West German actor Buchholz. Director Thompson had initially intended that the young fugitive be a boy, as in Calef’s original story, but, while visiting John Mills in connection with the movie, was struck by Hayley’s natural ability and altered the script accordingly.

This movie is unrelated to Tiger Bay (1934).

Tiger Bay 1959 - 9 Gillie (H Mills) protests that it's not her in the paper
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On Amazon.com: Tiger Bay (Import)

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3 thoughts on “Tiger Bay (1959)

  1. Wonderfully written and observed review of a minor classic that always rewards on repeat viewings. And as you allude to here, the main reason is the casting of Haley Mills, who is charming, and whom exhibits charisma and chemistry with the other lead.

    Happy Easter to you and Pam!

    • Yep, it’s one of her best performances — I often wonder if possibly Horst Buchholz might have been the reason, if the two genuinely enjoyed each other’s company as much as they seem to on screen: if she brought out the father/uncle/big brother in him, as it were. The sequence where they’re trying to hide out in the hills seems almost unacted, as if Thompson was letting them wing it.

  2. Pingback: Film Notes: Tiger Bay (1959) directed by J. Lee Thompson – A Crime is Afoot

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